ROCK HILL — Hope will fill the sanctuary at Rock Hills Park Baptist Church this morning.
Members will line the pews. Visitors will eat breakfast. Congregants will dress a makeshift wooden cross in front of the church with flowers and lilies.
And a young pastor will deliver his first Easter sermon.
The Rev. Dave Kiehn, 32, spent this week preparing and praying. On Wednesday, he worked on a message about Gospel love that he planned to deliver at a prayer meeting that same night.
He prayed for a homeless man who wandered into the church midday, and made plans to visit a grieving family.
All this, while beginning work on a message hell pull from Matthew 28, a passage of Scripture chronicling the crucified Jesus disappearance from the tomb, conversing with two women who witnessed his death, and later commissioning his disciples and all Christians to spread the message of the Gospel.
The sermons title: Christ Was Raised As Our Hope.
In his resurrection, (Jesus) allowed us to become a part of God, Kiehn said. Now, we go and share the message.
To ready himself, Kiehn has meditated on the message of the cross. He has allowed it to rest upon my own soul. He has acknowledged his own sinfulness, he said, and asked God to purify his mind.
He has repented of his sin and is honest about his own humanity.
Kiehn is not out to please the Park Baptist congregation. Its God he aims to glorify.
Hes excited not because itll be his first Easter sermon, he said, but because hell preach about Jesus resurrection.
The life of the Christian is all about the resurrection, an event he says is not a myth but grounded in history. If we dont have the resurrection, we dont have hope.
But Kiehn has hope, and he says he has had it for at least 16 years.
Kiehn became a Christian when he was 16. While 22 and teaching at an inner-city school in Washington, D.C., he began to feel the tug of ministry. He left his job with Teach for America and started working with an outreach ministry.
After Kiehn completed studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., and opened a group home for teenage mothers in Summerton, S.C., his wife, Ellen, a Rock Hill native, decided she wanted to be closer to home.
Kiehn wanted to pastor at a church where he could be close to the people he served.
In July, he found his way to Park Baptist Church.
The members have been great, he said. They want to grow in Christs likeness theyre very gracious to me and my family.
A father to two girls and one boy, Kiehn has ministered to married couples who are more than twice his age and have lived lives of faithfulness.
Their stories of overcoming difficulties has sharpened his own faith, he said.
Christmas and Easter are different for pastors, he said, because people who might not attend church year-round fill the pews during the holidays.
But Kiehn wont be looking for people to just attend an 8 a.m. sunrise service Sunday, followed by breakfast, Sunday school and then another worship service.
He wants them to connect.
I want them to hear the word of God and want more, he said.
Its not about giving an eloquent discourse thatll move the audience, he said.
I always tell the church members, Dont tell people you have a good pastor or a good preacher. Tell them you have a pastor who preaches about a great God.
When Ella Ramsey talks about her pastor, words like energetic and hard-working come to mind.
In more than 60 years as a member of Park Baptist, a church situated along a strip of historical homes and law offices on East Main Street, Ramsey has seen at least nine pastors come and go.
She has witnessed the churchs membership peak at 1,000 and seen it slump to about 105.
One things for sure, she said: Theres love to be found at Park Baptist.
Some church members are like family, she said, and Kiehn is no exception.
Hes very excited, she said. Hes very young and creative, and she looks forward to that youthful creativity jumping off a page of sermon notes this morning.
The lord steps in
Like Kiehn, Pastor Joey Deese hopes to share the impact of the cross this morning.
Its a story of redemption and hope and the love of Christ, Deese said. If the resurrection didnt happen, if Jesus didnt rise from the dead, were doomed; were in trouble.
Deese, 32, is no stranger to preaching messages about salvation and redemption, having served as the youth pastor for Rock Hills Oakdale Baptist Church for more than five years.
The churchs senior pastor since January, Deese also will preach his first Easter sermon to the congregation of about 150 regular members.
His message will focus on Passover and the Lords Supper, when the Bible says Jesus ate with his disciples, washed their feet, discussed his impending death and identified Judas as the man who would betray him for 30 pieces of silver.
Deese understands the weight of his responsibility. Thats why he has spent days in prayer, meditation and submission to the word of God.
As long as hes walking upright with God, he said, hell be ready. The most terrifying thing for any Christian, he said, is to deliver a message without proper preparation.
His new role as a pastor has been an amazing ride, Deese said, but he admits his tasks can sometimes be overwhelming.
Thats where the Lord steps in and takes over, Deese said. I know I cant do it myself, but he finds comfort in giving the Holy Spirit control.
Like Kiehn, Deese became a Christian when he was 16.
But he really didnt surrender his life to Jesus Christ until years later, he said, when he worked at New Life 91.9, a Charlotte Christian radio station, and met a man whose daughter had been injured in a car accident that left her nearly comatose and on a feeding tube.
Her father lost his job and his insurance and needed a car, so Deese said he and the radio staff decided to put on a benefit to raise money for the family.
During the benefit, he encountered a group of volunteers who called for people to join in prayer. Thats when he realized they were there to show the love of Christ while he was there to make himself feel better about a tragic situation.
While walking to the prayer circle, he said, he decided to fully give his life to Christ. After a few years in seminary and a stint on the radio, Deese started serving at Oakdale.
This morning, he hopes his first Easter message as a senior pastor reaches people who havent been to church in a long time, havent heard the name Jesus Christ and especially havent heard the life-changing story of Jesus.
I want to share what the Gospel says, he said, adding that he hopes new attendees understand that they too can have a life-changing experience.